Editor’s Note: This is another post from Lionel Joel, one of the new staff writers here at Black & Teal.
Porsche convertible or Volvo wagon? Those super-awesome jet skis you saw an ad for on Craigslist or your kid’s college fund? Brazilian man-panties or J. Crew boxers? These are the perplexing questions that plague us all on a daily basis. Choco Taco or Cliff Bar? While the sensible choice is most likely the best choice in the long run, the sexy side can be invigorating, satisfying, and attention-grabbing. Basically, do you place your future with immediate gratification and hope it will somehow fit into your lifestyle or do you settle for what will quietly prove more useful down the road despite seeming soul-crushingly mundane (Yea, I’m talking to you, J. Crew boxers). With all that is being written about the upcoming NFL draft and what the Jaguars should do, our potential picks can be separated into two categories: sexy and sensible.
The Jaguars under Gene Smith have rarely gone with the sexy choice. We’ve devoted a lot of early round picks to building the inside of our offensive and defensive lines, and those are rarely the sort of choices that get the fanbase motivated to, well… care. While winning is usually the best way to sell tickets and improve your team’s image, it sometimes requires more.
In 2010, the Tampa Buccaneers went 10-6. Although they missed the playoffs, the team improved drastically from a 3-13 season the previous year and had a strong core group of young players and an impressive young coach/ quarterback combo in Raheem Morris and Josh Freeman heading into the 2011 season. Despite having all of these pieces in place and winning 10 games, the Bucs struggled mightily to sell tickets. In 2010, every home game was blacked out. With everything looking promising going into 2011, the Bucs still could not sell tickets. They had five out of seven home games blacked out (their eighth home game was in London and therefore was not blacked out).
It could be that they had no superstars or high-profile players on their team (unless you count everyone waiting eagerly to see if LeGarrette Blount would punch someone in the face) to excite and interest the casual fan. They only had one Pro Bowler in 2010 (OT Donald Penn) and he isn’t selling tickets anytime soon. The Bucs seem to have noticed this too because this offseason they have done everything possible to change it. They signed high-profile free agents Vincent Jackson, Carl Nicks, and Eric Wright, which gives their fanbase some boastful water cooler conversations and creates renewed interest.
In order for the Jags to avoid the twisted fate of going from a losing team that can’t sell tickets to a winning team that can’t sell tickets, they can draft a popular, nationally revered talent. Here are potential draft picks that could have an immediate impact on ticket sales, fan interest, and team improvement:
- Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State – Blackmon is the highest rated wide receiver in a wide receiver-rich draft. He had a dominant career at Oklahoma State, especially in 2011 when he reeled in 121 catches and averaged 117 yards per game. He was an All-American in 2010 and 2011, as well as the top rated receiver in the nation. At 6’1”, 207 lbs, he is no Calvin Johnson, but has reasonable size to pair with his elite athletic ability and ball skills.
- Projection: Every mock draft that has Justin Blackmon available at the seventh overall pick has the Jaguars taking him. The key word is availability. In a pass-friendly league, every team can use an elite WR, but few need one as much as the Jags. He would immediately boost our receiving corps and give Blaine Gabbert a young game-changing receiver to grow with, much like the combos of Matt Ryan/Julio Jones and Andy Dalton/A.J. Green. It seems likely that he will go either to the Browns with the fourth pick or the Rams with the sixth pick, but keep your fingers crossed.
Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU – Despite losing standout DB Patrick Peterson to the NFL in 2011 (#5 selection overall), the LSU defense didn’t miss a step last season when Claiborne stepped up to fill the void. Unanimously rated as the top secondary player in the 2012 draft, Claiborne is the kind of talent that can have an immediate impact for the team that drafts him. He had six interceptions en route to winning the Jim Thorpe Award in 2011. He is considered very strong despite only being 6’0”, 188 lbs. He was originally recruited to play wide receiver out of high school, so his hand-eye coordination and ball skills are excellent. With every offense focusing on their aerial attack, shutdown corners like Claiborne can be invaluable to defenses.
- Projection: Mock drafts generally have Morris Claiborne being drafted before the Jaguars’ pick at seven. Trades and changing perspectives can easily alter this before and during the draft. The wild card team in a scenario with no trades is Cleveland. If they decide to pass on Claiborne for someone like Blackmon or Trent Richardson (RB, Alabama), Morris could easily fall to the Jaguars. After signing Aaron Ross to a five-year deal, it may seem unlikely that we will draft Claiborne. However, incumbents Rasheen Mathis and Derek Cox have had significant injuries in recent seasons and depth in the secondary can be a saving grace, as shown by the Super Bowl-Champion N.Y. Giants. I believe he won’t make it past the seventh pick, but could easily go to Cleveland, Tampa, or St. Louis at picks four through six.
- Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina – Coples is one of the highest rated defensive players in the draft and the top defensive end. He averaged 8.5 sacks per year in his final two seasons with the Tar Heels despite regularly being double teamed and led his team in tackles for a loss (15.5) and was fourth in tackles (55) in 2011. At an impressive 6’6”, 284 lbs, he has the size to shed offensive linemen and take down powerful running backs on the edge. When players like Coples perform up to their potential, opposing quarterbacks expect to have a long day.
- Projection: Quinton Coples seems destined for Jacksonville. Most projections have us taking Coples and Gene Smith recently informed Matt Roth to hit the bricks. Coples would fill Roth’s spot nicely as both are defensive ends that can stand up and play outside linebacker in certain situations. After finishing with the sixth overall defense, the Jaguars have only upgraded. We kept our free agents from leaving while also signing Aaron Ross who brings skill, experience, and jewelry (started both Giants’ Super Bowls vs Patriots) to the team. Adding Coples could be the one piece we need to become an elite defense. If Gene Smith decides to pull an “Alualu”, I expect Coples to go ninth to Carolina.
It is so easy for fans (myself included) to become enamored with the flashy, overhyped college standout (You heard it here first: RG3 will be a TOTAL bust in the NFL, but let’s leave that for another day). It’s difficult to get excited about offensive guards and defensive tackles. We all want that next Ed Reed or Randy Moss (circa 1998). It’s no fun to invest; we want to cash that paycheck at 4:00 and spend it by 6:00. But we cannot mislabel shiny as substance. We cannot fall under the spell of all-star envy, because this can lead down an extremely frustrating road.
The San Diego Chargers have had one of the most star-studded rosters in recent memory. In 2008, the Chargers had nine Pro Bowlers, not including their fantasy football goldmine quarterback Philip Rivers. They hired Norv Turner as their coach, a two-time Super Bowl winner as the Dallas Cowboys’ Offensive Coordinator. But since making it to the AFC Championship Game in 2007 (Norv’s first year in SD), the Chargers have won one playoff game, lost two, and missed them all together in 2010 and 2011. This despite at one point having revered players all over the field like Rivers, Antonio Gates, Vincent Jackson, LaDainian Tomlinson, and Shawn Merriman (until MOJO ruined his career).
The Chargers had plenty of stars on the field and high expectations every season, but failed to sell tickets. Maybe their fans could see the lack of substance or discipline. The franchise’s inability to establish a strong foundation within the locker room led to failed expectations and wasted seasons. From 2009-2011, the Chargers had multiple blackouts to pair with their well-documented on-field disappointments.
In order to build a prolonged contender, the Jags must have sold contributors in the trenches, strong leadership personalities in the locker room, and a willingness to win at any cost. These are some players in the draft that won’t necessarily sell tickets or Jerseys, but could be vital parts of a winning franchise:
- Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa – Reiff started 33 consecutive games for Iowa. At 6’6”, 313 lbs, he has the size necessary to be a successful NFL lineman. Scouts say he is an excellent pass blocker and an even better run blocker. Reiff is widely considered the second best offensive lineman in the draft (behind USC’s Matt Kalil) and his unique athleticism (he was a high school standout in football, track, wrestling, and golf) could put him in a starting role by the end of training camp. Quarterbacks can only be as successful as their offensive lines allow them to be, and we all know Blaine could certainly use the help up front.
- Prediction: Riley Reiff is another guy that mock drafts say could wind up in Jacksonville. While our offensive line does a good job run blocking, many say that our susceptibility to a decent pass rush was one of the reasons our passing game continually struggled last year. The Jags also have a need for depth at the tackle position. It admittedly doesn’t feel great to draft these kinds of guys in day one of the draft, but those feelings could easily be remedied if Blaine turns the corner in 2012. If we don’t call his name, a team like Seattle at 12 could certainly use his services for Matt Flynn (a.k.a. Kevin Kolb 2.0).
David DeCastro, OG, Stanford – DeCastro is the highest rated Offensive Guard and reportedly had just as many scouts enamored with him at Stanford’s Pro Day as Andrew Luck (maybe more so since Luck obviously isn’t making it past Washington). He is a beast at 6’5”, 320 lbs and will solidify the interior of an NFL offensive line. His best attributes include intangibles like intelligence, tenacity, and focus. DeCastro is on every scout’s radar; it’s simply a matter of how high they are willing to go without over-valuing him.
- Prediction: David DeCastro is generally regarded as a mid-to-late first round pick. This is just based on pure talent and usefulness. His value may rise quickly when factoring in teams’ specific needs. The Jaguars could use some depth at the Guard position, and an upgrade on the offensive line is always welcomed. DeCastro has the intangible qualities that famously attract Gene Smith. As with Reiff, DeCastro could help Blaine stay upright and have time to grow as a quarterback. This one is hard to predict, but he reportedly had a very long conversation with Cincinnati at the Combine, so it seems like going 17 overall to the Bengals fits his projected value.
- Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina – Ingram erupted as a blue chipper in 2011 with 8.5 sacks and 13 tackles for a loss for the Gamecocks. Versatility defines his value as he effectively contributed at defensive end, tackle, and outside linebacker. At 6’2”, 264 lbs, Ingram is one of those rare athletes with size and agility that can have an impact all over the field. Defensive Coordinators in the NFL could really frustrate offenses with multiple defensive line and linebacker sets uniquely devised using a talent like Ingram.
- Prediction: Melvin Ingram seems more and more like the dark horse of the Jaguars’ first round prospects. Some notable projections from the NFL Network and ESPN have the Jags taking Ingram, and his value seems to rise every time his recently discovered skill set is evaluated. I am extremely cautious about a guy like Ingram. First off, I believe that if you don’t have a defined position, it’s because you’re not quite good enough at any position. In most circumstances, if you are a top tier defensive end that can play tackle and backer, you will be listed as an end and your team will figure it out from there. You certainly won’t be working out at all three positions to try to prove to scouts that you possess some sort of value. Second, he only had one solidly productive year. During that year, he had the number one prospect in the country, Jadeveon Clowney, attracting a lot of attention and blowing up plays from which Ingram reaped the rewards (cough, couch… Georgia). Melvin Ingram is really the only projected Jaguars’ pick that I will not be okay with drafting at seven overall. I also don’t much care where he winds up. He’ll be their problem.
The NFL draft is probably the most overrated, overindulgent, hollow event in sports today. I have personally invested countless hours researching 20 year olds, less than 1% of which my team will sign, and 99% of which won’t make a dent in the NFL until 2015. And I’m not even one of those mouthpieces that gets paid year-round to cover this stuff.
That being said, and with all of the information available, I think the Jags will draft Quinton Coples. Obviously any jackass with a computer and some time to kill can reach a different yet equally reasonable conclusion, but I refuse to believe it until I’m proven wrong on April 26th. Defensive end is the only glaring need that we didn’t address in free agency. In fact, we even got rid of one of the few defensive ends that we had on the roster. Coples’ projected value aligns perfectly with our need and he is the kind of talent that can help put our defense on the late night highlight reel and in the victory column. It’s possible that our decision makers will choose to address a flaw in our offensive line instead, but the only way I see our draft plan being altered is if Justin Blackmon settles curiously on our doorstep.
– Lionel Joel